SEATTLE -- President Bush late Monday signed a disaster declaration for five counties of western Washington overrun by floodwaters, congressional spokesmen said.
The declaration will set federal agencies in motion to begin offering flood assistance to residents and businesses hurt by flooding in King, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish and Grays Harbor County.
Word of the signing came from Steve Witter, a spokesman for Rep. Rod Chandler, R-Wash., Witter said the congressman received a call announcing the signing from Fred McClure, the White House's head congressional liaison for the House.
Witter said McClure told the congressman that the declaration can be amended to include other counties. Gov. Booth Gardner has already asked for such a declaration for eight additional counties in the wake of the second wave of flooding over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Rivers swollen by torrential rains began receding Monday as commuters weathered the loss of a major interstate bridge, dairy farmers discovered entire herds lost and residents began returning to flooded homes.
No official damage estimates were available, but losses were expected to reach into the tens of millions of dollars. Flooding two weeks earlier already caused $42 million in damage to homes, businesses, roads and other public facilities.
Already prior to Thanksgiving, 57 homes were wiped out, 400 more were heavily damaged and another 400 received minor damage in flodding Nov. 9-12. Officials said damage from the second wave would likely be higher.
More than a dozen rivers overflowed their banks and several thousand people were forced to scramble for higher ground. One man caught by the floodwaters of the Snoqualmie River near Duvall was presumed drowned.
Monday morning, the waters in most areas of western Washington were slowly 'starting to go down,' Mark Stewart, a spokesman for the state Division of Emergency Services, said.
'Some folks who live on higher ground are starting to go home. Those in lower areas haven't been able to,' Stewart said.
Gov. Booth Gardner added eight more counties to his federal disaster list for Bush, who is in Mexico this week, bringing the total to 13 counties, and the governor declared states of emergency in five others. The disaster aid request and declaration of emergency involves about one-third of the state.
Meanwhile, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said he had received assurances from federal transportation officials for up to $100 million in emergency funds for the old Interstate 90 floating bridge that sank in Lake Washington.
The old four-lane bridge, closed in 1989 after the new seven-lane parallel I-90 floating span opened, sank when water flooded hatches cut into the sides of bridge sections by contractors doing resurfacing work on the bridge. Four workers jumped onto a waiting barge at the last moment before six of 25 pontoons went down.
The Lacey V. Murrow Bridge -- the nation's first concrete floating span when it opened in 1940 -- had been scheduled to reopen in 1992 to complete the Seattle-Bellevue link, the final project of the Boston- Seattle interstate.
Dicks said it was possible that federal funds could help replace the span by 1992.
But for the short term, a commuter nightware was in progress because the new parallel bridge also was closed. Divers confirmed Monday that 13 cables anchoring the new bridge were severed and another heavily damaged by the sunken pontoons from the old bridge.
As winds began to pick up Monday evening, four tugboats attached lines to the bridge and steamed into the wind, hoping to hold the new bridge in place.
The bridge disaster was only the most spectacular of dozens and dozens of flood calamities, which included helicopter rescues, collapsed dikes, stranded trains, washed-out bridges and roads, an overturned river barge and massive, all-night sandbagging efforts by citizens protectingtheir towns.
One of the many hard-hit areas was the Snoqualmie Valley, east of Seattle, where dairy farmers Monday found herds of cattle lost while some minor looting was reported in a nearby town.
'My major concern is for the thousands of families that are out of their homes, have lost their cars and are trying to put their lives back together,' Gardner said.
'With the National Guard, the Salvation Army, the U.S. Forest Service, the Red Cross and just ordinary Washington citizens helping, we're making great progress, but we have a lot of work to do,' Gardner said.
Rail service over the mountains has been a problem since Friday, when parts of the main Burlington-Northern link through Stevens Pass began washing out.
Burlington-Northern spokesman Howard Kallio said there were six or seven washouts on the line and crews were checking whether a major trestle in Cashmere on the east side had shifted three feet off its foundation.
All trans-mountain freight trains were being detoured south to Vancouver, Wash., and east to the Tri-Cities. Callio said the main line would be shut down for at least a week.